Great American Smokeout this month

By Michael Davis

When Julia Garrett started smoking, she said she would sneak long, thin cigarettes from her parent's Chesterfield can.

"I started trying it out at 13," the 64-year-old McDonough resident said. "I just thought it was so neat. I would lay on the couch and talk on the phone to my girlfriend's and smoke when no one was around."

When Julia was raising her five daughters she never taught them that smoking was a dangerous thing to do.

Garrett said that now, three of the five are smokers; the other two can't stand to smoke.

"The two of us that don't have just always had horrible reactions to breathing it in," said Debbie DeLoe of herself and her sister Dana.

Riverdale resident Terri Knight, one of Julia's daughters who smokes, is now 44. She has been a smoker since a friend passed her a cigarette and encouraged her to try it.

"I've tried to quit like five times and I always used stress as an excuse to start back," she said.

Every year, millions of smokers try to quit using patches, gums, shots, and even going cold-turkey. But the Great American Smokeout is one of the most popular days to kick the habit, says the American Cancer Society. Started nationally in 1977, the GASO is held on the third Thursday of November to raise awareness of the dangers of smoking and second-hand smoke. "If they can stop smoking, it's one of the biggest things they can do to improve their health and certainly reduce their risk of cancer," said Ken Durden, a spokesman for the Southeast Division of the ACS. "Our goal is for people to make the decision that day to quit."

The ACS estimates that nearly 9 million smokers participated in the 2002 GASO. To raise awareness of tobacco-related health risks, Henry Medical Center is teaming with several Henry County high schools for "The Truth About Tobacco Program" to educate students about the dangers of smoking before they start.

"With teenagers, you have to think of what they'll be most afraid of if they smoke," said Vicky Ayers, a registered nurse and community educator at HMC. "Things like smelly clothes and that no one will want to kiss them will hopefully discourage it." HMC will also offer the "Fresh Start" program in January for smokers who have made a resolution to quit.

On Nov. 20, educators at Southern Regional Medical Center in Riverdale will set up a table outside of the cafeteria to distribute information on smoking cessation and cancer rates.

"We're trying to reach out to the community, employees and patients," said Kelly Rook, a health educator at SRMC.

Last year, the Georgia Tobacco Quit-Line, a toll-free counseling service provided by the Georgia Department of Human Resources, received almost 14,000 calls from smokers seeking information on how to quit, said Gary Cochran, cessation coordinator for the Tobacco Use Prevention Program of the DHR.

"We find that where a lot of people won't go to face-to-face counseling, they will (seek counseling) over the phone," Cochran said.

The Quit-Line answers an average of 800 to 1,000 calls per month, Cochran said, but during the months of January and February, because of New Year's resolutions, "we see a 200-300 percent increase," he said.

Toy Scaife, Tobacco Use Prevention Coordinator for the Clayton County Board of Health said that according to a recent study, Clayton County has a higher percentage of smokers than any other health district in the state. "We do have certain parts of Clayton County that are of low socio-economic status, but I would hate to pin-point that as a reason," she said. Scaife cited an earlier study that showed that most smokers in Clayton County had two college degrees and higher incomes. "The survey is just so random," she said.

Scaife said that the focus of Tobacco Use Prevention is to get smokers to quit. "On Nov. 20 we're going to launch a smoke-free dining guide and open the ?Wall of Memories' where we collect stories and pictures from people who have been affected or passed away from tobacco use."

But Debbie DeLoe said that she doesn't want to force her mother to quit smoking. "She's tried to quit so many times. Things just happen that make you start back up."